It’s easy for me to say that writing can make you a better person. I’m a writer. But I’m also convinced that the deliberate act of writing is a worthwhile endeavor for any person, no matter who or where—and certainly no matter why.
Writing is mental and physical exercise, and it requires something specific of the practitioner, namely, that he or she is willing to try and express something meaningful. As a professor, I persistently encourage my students to look at writing in this way—as exercise —and I ask them to write almost as regularly as they practice skills more specific to their professional pursuits.
The problem? I wasn’t practicing what I preached, so, I began holding myself accountable for 3 writing sessions per week. I soon realized that I came out of the action more engaged, more aware—probably because writing forced me to wander into the recesses of my mind, a place most of us are reluctant to go. After all, while writing, you have to ask tough questions of yourself—or impose prying, meddlesome inquiries on others, because to even put pencil to paper we first have to have viable, interesting source material.
The notion that a smart person is automatically a fine writer is false. In fact, writing—the art and craft of it— is a unique enterprise. Of course, writing requires some credibility in terms of how we use the language, and the application of the “mechanics” of writing might seem tedious—dare I say, mind-numbing (seeing as how this includes knowing the parts of speech and having a grasp of the difference between a colon and a semi-colon). Taking this on, though, can be rewarding in that it encourages a focus on tasks that may not be high on your “fun and festive” list.
Arguably a writer must also commit, to a certain extent anyway, to conveying something valid. So, you anchor ideas in a sound, clearly stated topic, then organize the points in an order that adequately explains your position. This goes for non-fiction as well as fiction writing; after all, telling a story means offering the seeds of a plot outline, then carefully weaving narrative threads so that point of view, character development, and dramatic scenarios sequence logically. The simple exercise of writing can activate the part of your brain—the part that deploys coherent, reasonable thoughts—that needs to be prodded into action!
In fact, adhering to such basic laws of communication via the practice of writing may mean that you become more motivated toward better concentration on everyday interactions—even if just in casual conversation. In other words, what if improved writing skills meant that you, in turn, became better at relaying what mattered most to you in a personal or business relationship? What if we all could share our ideas with more clarity, or filter our suggestions with more honesty?
Most artists, whatever the discipline, like to share their work, and in doing so give something of themselves. Don’t get the wrong idea, though: a person can and should write for his or her eyes only, where grammar and usage rules fade to oblivion in the shadows of words and phrases (however ineloquent and rough) that resonate with you and you alone. That said, it’s a viable exercise to write prose that you know will never meet another person’s eyes: a writer doesn’t need a reader (just as a singer doesn’t need an audience). This kind of writing is more self-indulgent, to be sure, but no doubt we all deserve that privacy, and no doubt the exercise of writing just for our own consumption means we’ll likely learn something about ourselves.
So even when you aren’t writing for an audience of target readers, consider what a writing exercise might reveal; consider the act of writing as a potential portal into your own soul, your own brain—past ill-conceived, shallow beliefs and deep into the “layers” of the what and why of who you are.
On the flip side, sharing one’s work might somehow make a person less selfish. A stretch? Think about it: when we bother to express our ideas and ideologies, emotions, or simple recollections, we divulge personal details—and who knows who that might ultimately serve.
My own experiences with the art and craft of writing have made me more introspective and productive, plus I’m more efficient in formulating ideas, more candid in making suggestions (to students and colleagues), and ultra-aware of how the shape of my words and phrases might determine my role in academic, business, and personal situations.
The best part? My mentorships with students prove to me that anyone can benefit from a pledge to write more actively and more often.
So I offer some tips for incorporating this important activity into the everyday. Practice “time blocking” and insert the word WRITE (yes, in all caps) in your calendar (electronic or paper), every other business day, without fail.
To prepare for sitting down and actively pursuing the craft of writing, be sure you’ve first completed these tasks:
- Develop a list of writing prompts to have on hand. Consider 1-line quotations from artists or world leaders (these are easily sourced from the internet — for example, check the Forbes “100 Best Quotes on Leadership”);
- Micro-manage yourself to a certain extent via a) a set time for actively writing, where 15 minutes may be about right, and b) a set word-count limit, where you aim for 250 words total, or about 1 double-spaced page; and,
- Consider how you might share your newly created prose—or keep it to yourself.
After all, the best part about writing is that whatever comes of it belongs to you. Embrace your writing “self” and get closer to a better one with every line.